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Important step forward in LGBT data collection

September 21, 2012

It was a big day in the world of data for LGBT people and their families yesterday when the American Journal of Public Health released “Current Tobacco Use Among Adults in the United States: Findings from the National Adult Tobacco Survey.”

This report is critical for multiple reasons — first, because we’ve known for a long time that tobacco use in the LGBT community is pervasive, and secondly because the survey contains explicit data collection tools for the LGBT community.

This is a huge deal.

We’ve talked about the importance of data collection before, and now we get to see how much more empowered we can be with the appropriate research. When we aren’t counted in national surveys, we miss out on vital community resources. Literally. Every year billions of dollars are given to underserved communities according to needs-based assessments. But, as a community we cannot benefit from these funds if we aren’t seen, heard, and accounted for in federal surveys.

Recently, the Institute of Medicine released an LGBT report recommending the need for national LGBT health data. This study is one of the first to follow through on the recommendation.

We know disparities exist in our community: sometimes it is because LGBT people are denied spousal benefits through employers’ health care or sometimes doctors and hospitals lack cultural competency to effectively manage LGBT-specific health concerns, and sometimes because LGBT people have higher rates of substance, alcohol, and tobacco abuse.

Yet we still do not know the true extent of LGBT health disparities in this country. Accurate data is extremely limited, but we are now a step closer to illuminating the magnitude of those disparities.

LGBT data collection is a key Task Force priority because we know that our community can only benefit if it is no longer rendered invisible. Through our New Beginning Initiative, we are working with coalition members to get more LGBT questions on federal surveys. We’ve seen some progress in health, employment and relationship data, but there’s still more to be done. We’ve also been spotlighting data in our own National Transgender Discrimination Survey to bring attention to the severe disparities affecting transgender people and to push for more policy solutions to reduce them.

This is all helping to erase LGBT people’s invisibility in data collection. You can read more on this topic in this terrific article by Dr. Scout from the Network for LGBT Health Equity. Read it here.

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